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Fertility hope for children with cancer

Young people with cancer are set to benefit from a new service that aims to restore their fertility following chemotherapy.

Photo of a scientist and a cryostorage tank

Scientists are freezing tissue from the reproductive organs of boys and girls as young as one, which can be re-implanted once they reach adulthood.

UK first

The announcement follows the birth of the first baby in the UK to be born after his mother had a transplant of her own, previously frozen ovary tissue.

The storage of ovarian tissue to allow restoration of fertility after cancer treatment in girls and young women was pioneered in Edinburgh over 20 years ago, and it is wonderful to see it come to fruition.

Professor Richard AndersonElsie Inglis Chair of Clinical Reproductive Science, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health

Tissue transplant

The 33-year-old from Edinburgh had a section of her ovary removed 11 years ago after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

Following her chemotherapy, doctors re-implanted the tissue last year in the hope of restoring her fertility.

Milestone

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, conceived naturally and gave birth to a healthy baby boy earlier this month.

Her success, which was led by a team at the University of Edinburgh, has been welcomed as a milestone in the effort to help young people with cancer and other diseases whose treatment threatens their fertility.

When you’re going through cancer treatment it can be hard to think about the future, but I do think this will offer hope to others that they could one day have a family.

AnonymousMother of first UK baby born following ovarian tissue transplant

Side effects

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are known to have serious side effects on reproductive organs. If children are given these treatments before they reach puberty, it can render them infertile in later life.

By removing the tissue from children before they undergo cancer treatment, it is possible to protect it from side effects that can render patients infertile.

Challenge

Scientists say restoring fertility in men can be more challenging than in women because the testicular tissue of prepubescent boys is not yet able to produce sperm.

By comparison, girls are born with a full complement of egg cells which can be frozen for transplant at a later stage.

The option to store tissue, combined with research aimed at developing methods to restore fertility, offers real hope of fatherhood for these patients.

Dr Rod MitchellWellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow, MRC Centre for Reproductive Health

New service

Researchers say the new service, led from the University of Edinburgh, is open to NHS patients.

The research has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, Children with Cancer, the European Union and the Medical Research Council.

It has involved close collaboration with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS).

Related links

Edinburgh Fertility Preservation

MRC Centre for Reproductive Health 

Edinburgh Medical School 

Medicine – undergraduate study 

Medicine – postgraduate study